The Politics of Montreal Pride in Three Perspectives

Pride has become many things over the years. For some it’s a great party – a chance for peoa ple of all genders and sexual orientations and identities to bust out the rainbows and costumes and dance in the street. For others, Pride celebrations are political acts – assertions that people of all genders and identities have a right to live their best lives.

For many others, mainstream Pride celebrations have become too corporate and too much of an opportunity for cis straight white people, particularly politicians and major corporations, to solicit LGBTQI votes and business while doing nothing to help them. Some people have fought this by organizing resistance movements within Pride, while others have opted to stage their own separate protests.

I had the privilege of speaking with those who attended the parade and those who organized counter protests within and without.

Before I go into that, we need to discuss the history of Montreal Pride as there are still some (idiots) who wonder why the LGBTQI community needs a celebration at all.

The gay pride movement as we know it began with the 1969 Stonewall riots. True to the assertion that Pride started as a protest against police brutality, the riots were in direct response to police raids of establishments catering to the gay community.

The Stonewall Inn was a mob-owned bar that primarily served gay men in Greenwich village in New York. In June of that year police conducted a raid and in response to it and years of persecution, a riot erupted. It was this riot, led by black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson and others that sparked Pride marches and the mobilization of LGBTQI rights around the world.

The first Pride parade in Montreal happened in 1979 on the tenth anniversary of Stonewall. What started as a fifty-two-person march has now become an eleven-day festival with over two million participants.

Our local gay rights movement really got off the ground following the Sex Garage raid of 1990, which you could call our Stonewall. This led to the formation of Divers/Cité, the group that ran Pride until 2006.

This year the festival was marked by scandal. This is partly due to the announcement that Quebec Premier and critic of minority rights Francois Legault would be marching in the parade, as well as a recent CBC news story about how Sophia Sahrane, a black woman, was fired from Montreal Pride within an hour of submitting a report to them saying that they had not done enough to include visible minorities.

Many people objected to Francois Legault’s participation in Pride. At the head of this movement was Sam Kaizer, an activist behind the “Let go of Legault” petition calling on Montreal Pride to rescind its invitation to allow the Premier to march in the parade.

“When I started the petition, I was mostly concerned about the rights of our religious minorities, especially Muslim women,” he said. “But I was informed that the CAQ has done nothing towards the recognition of trans identities (and) the CAQ has not contributed anything to the advancement of LGBT+ rights.”

Unfortunately, though Kaizer’s petition got over three hundred signatures, Legault marched in the parade anyway. For Kaizer, this was not a total loss because Legault was booed almost the entire time and Kaizer’s petition helped spark important discussions about Pride. His hope was to raise standards for participants in the parade.

“I think only members of the community and allies should be permitted to march, not people who just want to look good in the media,” he said.

One person who marched in the parade was Jodi Kazenel. She was invited to march with her mentor, Dr. Laurie Betito, a phycologist with a specialty in sexuality and radio personality for CJAD. For Kazenel, the parade is about being part of a celebration of love and diversity and bringing awareness to how much more must be done for 2SLGBTQIA+ rights around the world and across Canada.

As for the criticisms of Pride Montreal as being increasingly corporate, racist and transphobic, she feels that if Pride helps raise awareness of these issues, then it’s a good thing. That said, she does have reservations about corporate participation in the parade:

“Corporations must ensure that their outward portrayals of inclusion and acceptance are reflected inside their workplaces, policies, medical allowances, and the like. Transphobia and racism have no place in Pride. Pride Montreal, all organisations, all corporations, all individuals must do their part to be inclusive of the entire 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which includes trans folks and POC.”

Sadly, there are many in Montreal who feel that Pride Montreal does not represent them. Among them are Adrienne Moohk, co-founder of GRIND’HER – a group that seeks to create pro trans, pro sex, pro sex worker lesbian cruising spaces, and Naomi Champagne. They are the organizers of the Pride is a Protest March which took place on the same day as and followed the Montreal Pride parade.

For them a major problem with Montreal Pride is the lack of black transgender women, ironic given that one of the leaders of Stonewall was a black trans woman. For them the firing of Sophia Sahrane was proof of the organization’s refusal to include or represent people of colour.

“Now, pride is centred around mostly white drag queens… Pride does not include black transwomen, nevermind does not centre them – and in fact, doesn’t seem to have much room for black people at all. or trans people!” Adrienne said, adding that many black and transgender people have walked away from Montreal Pride feeling traumatized.

In their eyes, Pride owes black, brown, and transgender communities representation and the fact that the event has become so corporate is also a problem.

“Pride started as a protest, but now is a corporate institution, that is actually quite dangerous to the lives of the most marginalized and while they def 100 should figure out better representation, all they do is appropriate people and their movements, instead of bring about real positive change which is quite dangerous,” Adrienne added.

For artist and transgender woman Candi Krol, attending the march over the parade was about feeling represented:

“(Montreal) Pride doesn’t speak for me or many others from marginalized communities under the LGBTQ+ banner, queer, trans, POC… pride has become an overly corporate white cis gay male thing that actively excludes us. Banks, politicians, corporations etc. pretend to care, but they are clueless. The gay rights movement was started by mostly drag queens, trans and queer POCs who lived on the fringes of the gay culture. They not only seem to forget this, but actively try to erase our history. I haven’t felt like pride supported or represented me in years.”

As to what Montreal Pride can do to better include people of colour and transgender people, Adrienne and Naomi feel that financially supporting marginalized groups would help. Pride in their eyes has so much money they could be handing out to community organizations to better support transgender people and people of colour.

They also feel that Montreal Pride doesn’t hire enough black, brown, and transgender people when Pride should be made up of a majority of them. Despite demands for inclusion, the organization doesn’t listen.

“There is an organization in Montreal called Taking What We Need, who fundraise for broke ass trans women who need it. They should have given them serious money, maybe room on the program.”

That said, the rights of LGBTQI people have a long way to go before equality is achieved. This is not just about homophobia or transphobia, but about racism, sexism, trans misogyny, police brutality, and corporate greed.

We owe it to ourselves as a society to actively scrutinize people who claim to support human rights, but actively undermine them when in a position to help. In the meantime, Montreal Pride will continue and so will all the other protests and rightful demands for change.

Images courtesy of Candi Krol

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